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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Museum of the Goldfields, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

One of the treasures of Kalgoorlie is their Museum of the Goldfields. I visited at Christmas time and was immediately greeted by an amazing Christmas tree in the courtyard. Made of miner’s safety hats, it is a tribute to the workers of the area – past, present and future.

Located at the top end of Hannan St, Museum entry is free and a $5 donation per person is encouraged.

The staff warmly greeted me as soon I entered and were very helpful. They handed out a brochure and advice on the best flow to maximize my visit. They do have courtesy wheelchairs available if required, and stairs and elevators can take you to different floors.

Gold Vault

Down in the basement is where the Gold Vault is located. This vault is guarded by very heavy bank type doors and houses half the State’s gold collection. This is the largest display of Western Australia’s collection of gold bars and stunning nuggets. There are gold sovereigns and sovereign cases on display. The jewellery on display includes unique and interesting digger brooches made of gold. They are quite intricate and beautiful with the name of the mine or town and utensils associated with that mine, all in gold.


Take the lift up to the Ivanhoe headframe for 360 degree breathtaking views over the town. The headframe is 31 metres (100 feet) off the ground, with the viewing platform 20 metres (60 feet) off the ground. The headframe was used on the Ivanhoe mine in the Golden Mile, which closed in the 1970s. It is made of 120 tonnes of steel.

Objects used in the Goldfields

There are many displays and stories from the goldfields. Great photos show the early goldrush days and artefacts that show everyday items used then. Included are old toys that the children played with, very different from those used today. The 1890s were important in the economic development of Western Australia, after gold was discovered. The population grew four-fold from 48,000 in 1890 to 180,000 in 1901. Along with this increase in wealth came a massive increase in infrastructure. This is evident with the opulence of the buildings around this time. With the sudden influx of people tent cities were established around the gold mines. A homemade wooden bicycle from 1890 is on display.

Kalgoorlie riots in 1934

There was a lot of resentment amongst the miners on the goldfields. British miners resented the non-British as it was thought that workers from Southern Europe accepted lower wages and conditions, therefore taking jobs from the British workers. Local miner George Jordan was twice ejected from the Home from Home hotel due to inebriation. He returned the next day to “get even” with the Italian barman Claudio Mattaboni. Mattaboni pushed Jordan who fell and struck his head on the curb, fracturing his skull. Jordan later died from the injury. People thought Jordan was murdered and the resentment boiled over and lead to widespread violence. 83 people were convicted and 14 people were jailed. It was described as Australia’s worst ethnic conflict.

The British Arms Hotel

As you walk through to the hotel you pass by a room with some historical trade union banners dating back to the first union actions in Kalgoorlie. The hotel was built in 1899 and thought to be the narrowest pub in the Southern Hemisphere. Here several rooms have been furnished as they would have been in the heyday of the goldfields. Dr Routs dental surgery makes you grateful that your oral health is being conducted in the current age.

An Edwardian parlour is furnished as a wealthier house would have been, full of ornaments and plants. A stark contrast to the simple miner’s cottage just outside the hotel.

The hotel is believed to be haunted by the peaceful ghost of Edith McKay. Edith was the 37 year old wife of the publican and fell down the stairs on 17 Dec 1913. She was found unconscious at the bottom. Her death certificate states she died of a brain aneurism. The building operated as a hotel for about 15 years then as a boarding house. It was purchased by the museum after being vacant for many years.

The Miner’s Cottage

Walk through the miner’s cottage and see how sparse the miner’s lives were in the early 1900s, with only essential and useful items here.

The De Bernales buildings

These two buildings show the opulent offices of Claude De Bernales (1876 – 1963) and some of his possessions. Claude was born in London and arrived in 1897 with only 5 pounds in his pocket. He made a fortune on the goldfields as a mining promoter. He marketed the goldfields to overseas investors and the success of the goldfields is due in large part to his marketing. In 1911 he redeveloped a house in Cottesloe into a Spanish Mission style mansion. Both the house and its grounds are now the Cottesloe Civic Centre. He also commissioned the London Court Shopping Arcade in Perth CBD.

Temporary Exhibit - Preppers

Often having different temporary exhibits, the one that was on display when I was visiting was about Preppers. Preppers is the name given to people who prepare in advance for crisises and emergencies. They can vary from those who build underground bunkers (a video on display here shows the amazing lengths preppers can go to) or it could be having a few survival skills. This exhibit makes you think, “Do I have the skills or an emergency kit if I need it?” I was told by other people that there are a lot of preppers in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder area.

Eastern Goldfields Miners Memorial

In the front courtyard there are several walls dedicated to the memory of all those who accidently lost their lives whilst working in the mining industry. Fortunately as the years have gone by, there are less names on the boards.

Tent camp

A primitive camp is set up in the courtyard to illustrate how the early miners lived when they first arrived. A place to rest their head at the end of a hard day’s work in the mine and somewhere to cook their food were the basic requirements.

Having a look at all the displays and reading the interesting information boards will take around 2-3 hours. There are even picnic tables in the courtyard if you wish to bring a picnic lunch. I learnt a lot about the goldfields and have an even greater respect for our early pioneers after visiting here.

Happy Travels!

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